Glorious War: The Civil War Adventures of George Armstrong Custer
Thom Hatch, St. Martin’s Press
Little that transpired during George Custer’s West Point years foreshadowed the huge mark he would make on the Civil War and his military endeavors during the 10 years that followed. He was a prankster and an indifferent student who was nearly booted from the academy, but out of necessity he saw action from the war’s start. The bravery he showed at First Bull Run drew the attention of George McClellan, who appointed Custer to his own staff. Custer worshipped his fellow Democrat, saying, “I would forsake everything and follow him to the ends of the earth.”
After McClellan was forced out of the Army, Custer joined General Alfred Pleasonton’s staff, where some mockingly called him “Pleasonton’s Pet.” But it was the young officer’s saber charge at Brandy Station in June 1863, not his fidelity, that earned him promotion to brigadier general.
Thom Hatch tends to hurry through battle accounts, and overstates the significance of Custer’s July 3 engagement with Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg. A number of historians reject Hatch’s argument that “the actions of Custer that day are worthy of a prominent place in the history of the Gettysburg battle—perhaps even as the turning point—and in the history of the Civil War.”
Hatch is at his best narrating Custer’s courtship of future wife Elizabeth Bacon. Also effective is his use of Thomas Rosser—Custer’s West Point roommate from Texas—as a recurring character. After Rosser joined the Confederate Army, they kept track of one another, facing off in several battles and exchanging notes. Rosser readily acknowledged Custer’s martial superiority, and even after Little Big Horn ardently defended his former roommate, adversary and friend.
Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.